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Patrols provide a sense of direction at Pine Grove Elementary

It's a significant compliment to a dedicated group of student patrols at Pine Grove Elementary. Their adviser, David Griffith, says the school simply couldn't function without them.

Pine Grove has 94 patrols, 10- and 11-year-old fifth-graders, who help move foot and vehicle traffic around the campus.

Foot traffic at Pine Grove moves outdoors with no interior hallways connecting classrooms. The school has more portables than most other schools. More than a thousand students, pre-K to Grade 5, must get safely from point to point through the day.

The patrols are part of the first program in the county, one that has been a model for many other schools. Griffith believes his program, begun in 1990, is the largest in the Southeast.

The students wear green shoulder belts with metal badges and bars to designate their rank. When off duty, they run, squeal and laugh.

But when they put on their badges, there's a change in demeanor. It's time for business.

Business for bus patrols means keeping drivers appraised of unsafe situations, a child misbehaving, someone feeling ill. They stand duty at the bus door to see that everyone gets on and off safely.

Campus patrols escort guests, monitor student conduct, and direct traffic in pick-up and drop-off zones.

"Campus patrols help kids who might prefer to take an indirect route to class find a more direct way. And on a campus this size, there are lots of indirect ways," Griffith said.

He has faith in his patrol unit officers - Capt. Andrew Jensen, 11; Deputy Capt. Sativa Fisher, 10; Campus Lt. Darby Aubin, 11; and Team Sgt. Tyler Mello, 10.

The kids, with two-way radios and clipboards, run a good part of the show themselves, Griffith said.

At bus-loading time, the campus team checks portable classrooms and, using official police 10-codes, they make sure students have all cleared the portables so no one is left behind when the buses leave.

"From kindergarten I wanted to be a patrol," Andrew said. "I thought the belt and badge were too cool. Now I like helping people. I make a difference. It's mostly fun but I don't like when someone gets hurt at school or we have to report someone. That's disappointing."

Tyler takes pride in knowing his big brother, Jeremy, was a patrol when Tyler was 3. He gets the benefit of hearing about Jeremy's experiences and sharing those stories with his teammates.

Sativa and Danielle Netterville, 10, enjoy the work and love incentives like pizza parties, field trips and the end-of-the year ceremony when patrols hand over their belts to incoming students. They like choosing gold badge honorees each month.

Patrols are chosen based on academic record, responsibility and attitude. They take pride in accomplishments like the time a patrol saved a student's life by pulling him out of the way of an oncoming car.

"Each year's group is different," Griffith said. "We've had great kids for almost 20 years. The group this year, though, they're fantastic. I've never seen anything like it."

Andrew is certain this year is special, too. He'll remember the experience for the rest of his life. His teammates agree, with or without the pizzas.